ESPN FOOTBALL 2004 for PlayStation 2 and XBox, $80. Rating: NNNN
MADDEN NFL 2004 for PlayStation 2 and XBox, $80. Rating: NNN
NFL GAMEDAY 2004 for PlayStation 2, $80. Rating: NN
Are you ready for some football? Baseball might be the all-American pastime and soccer the beautiful game, but nothing touches the gridiron for sheer passion south of the border. You get tailgate parties. You get hundreds of thousands of perpetually frustrated Bills fans. For its short season, football commands the complete attention of its fans.
No surprise, then, that there are three major video games competing for home entertainment dollars.
ESPN Football 2004, formerly known as Sega's NFL 2K series, has so many special features that the action on the field almost takes second billing. Designed from a TV viewer's perspective, the game has everything from field-level views and butter-smooth animated players to Matrix-style "bullet time" views, where the action slows to a crawl and you can view the plays from every possible angle.
It's fun stuff, and you can easily lose yourself for hours or days.
The Madden franchise remains the top-selling video game series in history. Like its namesake announcer, it's a back-to-basics football game made for hardcore football addicts, but it comes complete with all the other bells and whistles you expect.
The 2004 incarnation includes a handful of attractive tune-ups, including ridiculously detailed playbooks, look-alike players and graphics that rival what you see on your television every Sunday. You can also put on your suit and tie and be the owner of your franchise, controlling everything from the staff and the stadium design to the ticket prices (set them too high and no one will show up) and the bonuses your players get if they play well.
The worst of the bunch is NFL Gameday 2004, only because it sticks with the game and doesn't concern itself with fancy extras. That might have worked back in the old-school Intellivision days, but extras are what high-octane machines like the PS2 and XBox were invented for.
Having taken football as far as a simulator can go without providing you with a patch of turf to play on, these games, like their baseball, hockey and soccer equivalents, have been forced to load up with additional features, pre-season and minor league franchises and choose-your-own-adventure-style options to make the $80 price tag reasonable year after year. Online gaming has helped (all three of these are Web-friendly), but it's the games that take you beyond the play itself that are most successful.
How much further can these sims take football, baseball or hockey? What will they offer next year to get you to plunk down your loot? And when will someone develop a CFL game? These are all important questions waiting to be answered.